Yakushima is an important place in Japan, designated a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. It has several mountains with elevations of over 1,000m, and the number of hikers visiting the island has increased in recent years. There are hiking trails to accompany people of all levels, from beginners to experts. Today, I’ll be introducing two courses and showing you the best parts of Yakushima!
General Advice for Hiking in Yakushima
If you’re going to hike in Yakushima, you absolutely must prepare for rain. It rains so much that people claim it rains 8 days per week! The ground becomes slippery and it’s easy to get cold, so adequate preparation is essential.
Be sure to eat somewhere that makes a good resting spot. Natural spring water flows from the ground in many places, so for rehydration, one plastic bottle should suffice.
Beginners should considering hiring a guide. I actually hired a guide myself, and in addition to showing you the right way, they’ll prepare you the bare essentials, teach you about vegetation and animals during the hike, and point out recommended spots on the island. The guide I hired also prepared the dolls that I took the picture of (above). I liked the picture so much that I made it my cellphone background!
[Intermediate -> Advanced Level Trail] Jomon Sugi (Cedar) Round-Trip Hiking Course
First, I’ll be introducing the most famous course. It leads to the largest Jomon Cedar (Jomon is a reference to the Jomon period, though the actual age of the tree is older) on the island.
It takes about 10 hours and is 20 kilometers long in total, starting from the Arakawa Trailhead.
Departure happens before sunrise. How long it takes to reach the trailhead will depend on where you come from, but expect about one hour by car. There are also busses available.
Be sure to bring a light, because you’ll be walking about three hours on a trolley path. This path is flat and mostly straight, so we sang some songs to keep ourselves awake.
Once you’ve come to the end of the long, straight trolley road, you’ll spend the next 40 minutes climbing wooden stairs and using a stone path. After this, you’ll finally arrive at Wilson’s stump, famous for being shaped like a heart. After you’ve relaxed for a bit, it’s time to head off for the Jomon Cedar.
The next path takes about 90 minutes, but has many steep hills and can be exhausting, so be sure to take plenty of rests.
It’s a long trek, but the scenery along the way is great, and you’ll forget how tired you are once you arrive at the 6,900 year old Jomon Cedar!
Information: Bus: Get off at Arakawa Tozanguchi stop. Closed December 1st -> the end of February
[Beginner -> Intermediate Trail] See the World of Princess Mononoke on Shiratani Unsuikyo Trail
There are many different paths to choose from depending on your destination. I’ll be showing you the trail to Taiko Iwa, which takes about five hours round trip. I spent the last morning of my time in Yakushima on this trail.
The scenery along this trail is beautiful, and it has far less changes in elevation than the Jomon Sugi trail, making it a much easier climb by comparison. There are also many streams and waterfalls along the way.
Famous director and creator of Princess Mononoke Hayao Miyazaki himself has visited here many times.
The similarity between some of the scenery on the Shiratani Unsuikyo Trail and Princess Mononoke is uncanny. The colors of the mossy forest (Mononoke’s Forest) are especially beautiful.
The course ends at Taiko Iwa, a huge boulder from which you can get a beautiful view of the ancient forest that’s sure to take your breath (and tiredness) away.
- There is a 300JPY charge for using the trail. This money is used to protect and maintain the environment.
- If using the bus, get off at Shiratani Unsuikyo stop (bus will not run in case of snow)
I introduced two hiking trails in this article, but there’s plenty more to see in Yakushima. There is a variety of vegetation as the climate ranges from subtropical to temperate, and many endemic species such as yakusugi (Yakushima cedars) can be found here. The island has the most in all of Japan.
On the trails, it’s not unlikely to encounter indigenous Yakushima macaques and deer, either. Visit this unique island to see things you can’t enjoy anywhere else.
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